Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1937. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, Claudine West, based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck. Cinematography by Karl Freund. Produced by Albert Lewin. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Herbert Neuwirth. Film Editing by Basil Wrangell.
An important epic of the thirties that has not aged well for many reasons, the biggest of them likely to be the fact that it is a cast of mostly white actors in yellowface, with real Asians populating the background. Paul Muni, who is ridiculous, and Luise Rainer, who is surprisingly elegant, play a hard working peasant couple who struggle against the oppression of famine and harsh politics in rural China on the eve of revolution. Their early years, when romance overwhelms the misery of poverty, are soon followed by starvation before a stroke of fortune makes them wealthy but, as often happens, challenges their personal integrity. At the centre of it all, Rainer (who earned her second Oscar for her efforts), maintains the conscience of her entire family while suffering with great nobility. The cinematography by Karl Freund is superbly beautiful, and the scenery is effective considering that political heat forced principal photography to be done in California (though some establishing shots were filmed in China). Rainer wisely never overplays a single scene, her beauty and soft manners bringing a lot of grace to an otherwise awkward melodrama that never quite gels. Based on the novel by Pearl Buck.
Academy Awards: Best Actress (Luise Rainer); Best Cinematography
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director (Sidney Franklin); Best Film Editing;